There aren’t many producers as well known as Irwin Allen. For better or worse, he was cult television in the 1960s, producing a slew of series – Land Of The Giants , Lost In Space , The Time Tunnel , Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea – that shared slick production values, good-looking ensemble casts and an infectious sense of fun. Stefan Arngrim played Barry Lockridge on Land Of The Giants when he was just 13 years old, and with that series and many of Allen’s other cult efforts recently re-released on DVD by Revelation Films, we caught up with him for a nostalgic wallow...
Do you remember having much interaction with Irwin Allen?
“Well yes... I had regular contact with Irwin as everyone did. He spent quite a bit of time on set, playing with his giant TV show toy. He directed the first episode – “The Crash” – in which he set the style and tone for the first season. Irwin was hands-on involved with all his shows, as involved in every facet of pre-production – production and post – as much as any executive producer I have worked for. He was definitely from the Louis B Mayer school of filmmaking.”
What would you say Allen's contribution to the show was?
“It was his show, although he rarely wrote. He only directed one Land Of The Giants , and only a handful of his other shows. I know clearly that nothing made it to the screen in any of Irwin's productions that he didn’t approve first – often demand, then approve, begrudgingly, upon delivery.”
You were pretty young when you did the series. Do you remember your time on it as being hard work, or did you see it as a fun job?
“These are not mutually exclusive. It was often very hard work at what was undeniably the most fun job imaginable.”
How was it, viewing those sets through a child's eyes?
“They probably appeared even larger in that I was ever so much shorter. It was pretty cool… not just the Giants sets, but really the whole of 20th Century Fox: all its New York streets, Italian piazzas, ancient courts and laneways, lakes, riverboats, caves, native camps, western towns. They were all my personal playground between set-ups. Fertile ground for imagination to thrive in. I am a lucky lad.”
Who were you particularly friendly with from the cast?
“I felt particularly friendly with everyone on a relative level. Being ‘the kid’ sets one apart from the adult cast and although the cast of Giants did in fact treat me as a peer and equal, I was still a minor and the standard distances existed. But because we worked so closely together, Kurt Kasznar and I spent the most time together. Also, Kurt and my parents were good friends. He was a splendid actor and person and taught me a lot about being both.”
Irwin Allen is one of the few TV producers that people know the name of. Why do you think this is? Is there something that bonds all the programmes he worked on together?
“The colour orange. And I’m not being entirely facetious. Irwin’s production design, the ‘visual code’ for every film, was locked. His shows had an identifiable look, created by film stock choices, lab choices, great cinematographers who could delivered what Irwin wanted, and so on. I think you can spot an Irwin Allen show in the opening titles, long before his name appears. John Williams or someone much like him strikes up the adventure band, and we’re off! And if that doesn’t give it away, look for an eccentric character actor paired with a courageous young boy. Two of these will be Bill Mumy and me. I was saying to someone the other day, Bill did fill out and create an American iconographic archetype, Will Robinson: the courageous boy lost in space! But with his folks and his sisters for god’s sake! You can see his red-haired freckle face peering out from his silver lame jumpsuit and hanging out with a robot! A wired American flag only seems to blow in the Venusian winds... a very ’60s American future. Now Barry Lockridge certainly can’t make any similar claim to cultural pop icon, but I least I had the decency – and balls – to be an orphan!”
How has your time on Land Of The Giants affected your adult life? Does it follow you around?
“If I catch it following me around, I will lay in wait and kill it!. Honestly, for many years – although I never dissed the show – I rarely took any credit for it, and was just fine with everyone forgetting it. But it is only appropriate that youth should be ashamed and easily embarrassed. Much more dramatic and exciting! And it was 1967 – I was heavily involved in doing some terribly serious work, which I’m afraid I can’t recall just now and hopefully no one else does either. However, after not dying for a bit now, I find myself pleasantly grateful that as many people as there seem to be just really got some genuine enjoyment out of some funny little show I did 40 some years ago. I’m presently unable to come up with a decent reason to not enjoy this immensely!”
You still act now. How has the industry changed since your time on Land Of The Giants ?
“This is one of these questions that just has one of these answers... The industry is virtually unrecognisable – from stem to stern – from what it was just 25 years ago. On the other hand, whatever gear or creative bean multiplying is trending, movies get made pretty much the same way they ever did, and no one can quite explain what that is. But we who do it somehow all know exactly what it is when we see it, and that’s the best answer to that question I got!”
Interview by: Steve O’Brien
All of Irwin Allen’s big ’60s sci-fi series are now available to buy in their entirety, released by Revelation Films :